The Toronto Argonauts do not sell themselves short even if they are the betting underdog to the Calgary Stampeders in the Grey Cup game.
For one, they have added a ground attack since James Wilder Jr. replaced veteran tailback Brandon Whitaker in September, making them less dependent on the pass.
“It’s changed the dynamic of our team,” receiver S. J. Green said. “Prior to our running game picking up we were struggling to throw the ball, sometimes 50 times a game.
“When our running game came in our offence picked up and it allowed us to be more balanced.”
Now they hope to find the same magic that helped them upset Calgary 35-22 in the 2012 Grey Cup game in Toronto, when running back Chad Kackert was named the game’s most valuable player as he picked up 133 yards on 20 carries and added 62 more on eight pass receptions.
Ray was the Argonauts quarterback in that game too.
“There are some similarities with 2012 when Kackert came onto the scene and we were able to get a lot of great things out of the run game, a lot of explosive plays,” Ray said Saturday. “It’s kind of been the same for us.
“We’ve kind of evolved into having that running attack that’s been pretty explosive. So I see some similarities in that transformation of our offence.”
They hope that opens room for Ray to keep throwing the ball as well to Green, Armanti Edwards, DeVier Posey and the rest.
But nothing comes easy against Calgary.
“They’re a tough defence,” said Ray. “They cover really well.
“They have great guys up front who get after the passer. No. 39 (Charleston Hughes) has been after me throughout my career. They’re just difficult and they mix it up. Some times they drop nine guys into coverage. But looking at some of the games we had against them, we were able to get some plays on them. We’ve got to do a good job of taking advantage of those one on one situations and be able to make the throw and make the catch.”
One player Calgary is likely to key on is Green, who was targeted a league-high 169 times and had a career-high 1,462 yards on 104 catches this season. Chances are the Stampeders will have extra coverage on Green, especially if they can keep Wilder in check on the ground.
Green is used to it.
“I admit it is frustrating at times but I also look at it as a tribute to the success that I’ve had,” he said. “So basically, if I feel I’m being taken out of the game or getting more attention than others, for me personally, I just lock in and continue to encourage the guys around me.
“That’s how I stay in the game, even if I’m not catching passes.”
The Argonauts defence has to do the same to Calgary’s big weapons, including the double ground threat of Jerome Messam and Roy Finch.
Mostly, they’ll be looking to put quarterback Bo Levi Mitchell off his game. Mitchell won a Grey Cup and was game MVP in 2014, but he and the Stamps were on the short end of a 39-33 upset loss to the Ottawa Redblacks last season.
“You have to find ways to disrupt him,” rush end Victor Butler said of Mitchell. “You have to find ways to pester him, to bother him, to be a nuisance all day.
“I think with our defensive co-ordinator and coaches and the game plan we have, we’ve done a good job of putting in some things that can do that – that can be in his face. That can be around him. That can mess up the timing and rhythm of the offence.”
Another battle features the kick returners.
Finch, the CFL special teams player of the year, led the league in average punt and kickoff return yards and returned three punts for touchdowns. Toronto’s Martese Jackson can also make spectacular returns, although he has been known to fumble.
“To see him have success definitely motivates me to do better,” Jackson said of Finch.